In 2007, community leader Karen Kisslinger, a local acupuncturist, organic gardener, and meditation teacher first proposed the idea of a farmers market in the village of Millerton, NY. Around that time, Mrs. Kisslinger also ran a popular youth program at the North East Community Center called “Partners for Children.” Karen, who was married to physician Rob Dweck, had been nurturing and nourishing the community for many years and recognized the need to promote local farms and healthy food sources within rural communities. Karen went on to approach then Executive Director of the NECC Jenny Hansell who — as fate would have it — had experience with Greenmarkets in New York City. Ms.Hansell expounded on Karen’s idea by promoting the use of teen interns in farming and marketing. Today, Karen’s contributions and legacy live on in the 13 continuous seasons of market operation on the grounds of the Millerton Methodist Church.
What began that year with six farmers and local musician Charlie Keil playing trombone on a hillside, grew quickly over the course of just one season to 20 vendors. The market would soon become a vital village gathering place for local residents, an outlet for local farmers and food producers, educational opportunities for youth, and a place for visitors to buy and eat fresh, locally-grown produce. Over time, the North East Community Center assisted in establishing two farmers markets in Amenia, NY, as well. Finally in 2015, a weekly Winter Market was established inside the Methodist Church where it continues to thrive as the snow falls. Today, the bustling Millerton Farmers Market, still managed by the North East Community Center, offers a wide variety of seasonal produce, pasture-raised meats, fruit, cheeses, baked goods and prepared foods and each vendor remains local and uses sustainable and ethical growing practices. The market furthers its community outreach by participating in the Farmers Market Nutrition Program to serve EBT/SNAP users, Senior Citizens, and WIC program participants.
When asked how important it is to promote local agriculture, particularly in our Tri-Corner region, market manager John Nowak’s answer is short but poignant. “No Farms, No Food,” he says. “We should consider farms as the ultimate small business that America was built on. Local farms today provide not only nutritious food and beauty but also soil conservation, employment, educational opportunities, and a sense of community.” It is no secret that farmland is lost each year to private purchase and land development. If left unchecked, many feel the reliance on big agricultural food sources thousands of miles away will grow exponentially. Thus, the market’s success, as well as that of others in our area, means the continuation of critical resources for every community.”
When the spread of COVID-19 dealt its inevitable blow to small businesses everywhere, John and his team at the market felt a similar uncertainty regarding the future of the market. “We were operating inside the Millerton Methodist Church when NY PAUSE restrictions took effect,” he recalls. “Fortunately, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets deemed farmers markets essential businesses. We moved outside to allow for social distancing and followed guidelines from the NY State Department of Agriculture and the NY Farmers Market Federation for safe operation.” The response from customers with their continued support and patronage has symbolized the unifying spirit of the market itself. “We are truly grateful,” says John. “Although we no longer see the numbers of visitors normally present in the summer, all customers are taking advantage of the fresh, local choices offered in a safe environment and our farmers and vendors have seen steady business since the pandemic arrived.”
Though the typical festival sounds of summer’s past may not be quite as present this year, the farmers market has refused to let the effects of the pandemic damper spirits, as evidenced by their participation in National Farmers Market Week, taking place August 2-8. “Nowadays, it feels good to have something to celebrate at all,” says John. “Because of COVID, we need to prohibit our usual special events, concerts, and kids activities, however, National Farmers Market Week allows us to honor those who have supported farmers markets, local agriculture, and local food producers, taking a moment to recognize their role in our economy and community. Combining it with Give Back NY makes it even more special since it highlights their value to alleviate hunger in the community.”
The Give Back New York food drive is a week-long statewide program from the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York. The program encourages farm markets across the state to collect fresh produce and canned goods from both customers and vendors. This year, the Millerton Farmers Market will participate in the program giving patrons a chance to make the critical connection between food grown locally and local families in need. Visitors can purchase and donate food purchased at the market from vendors. “They can also bring their own home grown produce, shelf stable products or simply donate money,” says John. “All these contributions will be passed along to established food pantries, community dinners, or other resources throughout our local region, including the North East Community Center’s own Food & Supply Pantry. Efforts to help those experiencing hunger is another essential stitch in knitting together a community.”